WILDLIFE SCIENTISTS in Tanzania are investigating a severe infectious ear disease that is reported to have affected up to 30 per cent of an estimated 300 giraffes in Mikumi National Park, 300 km southwest of Dar es Salaam.
The tick-borne disease, known scientifically as otitis media, was first observed in the park in October 1999 in two animals. A survey of 210 giraffes in 2002, indicated that 16 of them had severe otitis.
Scientists who have been observing the situation say that although there is little information on the disease, at least 30 per cent of the giraffes in the park could be infected, with 13 per cent at an advanced stage of infection.
Dr Titus Mlengeya, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa), said he did not have figures of how many giraffes that had died from the disease due to logistical difficulties in the park made up mainly of a floodplain.
He, however, confirmed that the disease was widespread in the area and that the problem could be even more serious than was currently thought, "as only the severely affected animals showed clinical signs."
The disease is characterised initially by hyperkerotosis and scab formation on the inner side of the ear, where ticks attack. As the affected animal's condition deteriorates, the ear deforms and wrinkles. During the wet season, when there are abundant flies, the animal is forced to hide its head in the long grass and graze rather than browse.